Part Four: Love and Marriage

March 6, 2010 at 1:33 am (Articles, Attitudes, Godly Living, Love, Marriage, Purity, Singleness, Worship) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Posted by Abigail

Once upon a time I found myself in the middle of a conversation with a young woman.  The topic?  Romantic relationships.  She was aghast when she discovered that I “don’t date.”  “But—but—but,” she spluttered.  “How will you ever get married if you don’t date?”  “Hmmm,” I stroked my chin, enjoying her perplexity.  “I’ll have to think about that one.  How many guys have you dated?”  She thought for a few minutes before answering something close to a dozen.  “And you’re still not married?” I opened my eyes wide, pretending shock and horror before smiling.  “Well, if a dozen attempts haven’t found you hitched, it doesn’t really seem to me that dating is making marriage happen for you.”

Created to be his help-meet?

When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians he commanded them to go about “romance” in a set-apart way—not in lustful passion like those who don’t know God, and to be careful of defrauding.  In so-called “conservative” circles, we recognized the devaluation and pollution of marriage and the entirely impure routes many take to get there.  Often we denounce dating as “lustful passion” and “defrauding.”  We also see the rejection of God’s wisdom in creating men and women with unique roles.  And soon we are creating models and stereotypes of how a romance must progress and preaching slogans like “I’m saving my heart for my husband” and “Biblical courtship” and talking about being maidens in waiting. *  We proclaim the importance of marriage and the beauty of being wives and mothers, but sometimes I think we get caught up in the means and forget the end.  I think we’re confusing ourselves when we insist that we were created for marriage and child-bearing.  Before you stone me and throw me out of the synagogue, hear me out.  I counsel crisis clients at a pregnancy center, and every time I go over the information about conception, baby development and birth, I’m overwhelmed by God’s genius in creating women with the unique ability to sustain another human life.  You’ll never catch me devaluing that as a woman’s “saving” service. **  And yet, there’s a bigger picture.  You weren’t born married.  You could have been, but you weren’t.

Let me explain.  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  And He created a man to care for the earth.  But the man needed a helper.  So God created a woman and brought her to the man.  Eve might as well have been born married.  Adam had to have a wife to help him fulfill God’s command to multiply and fill the earth.  Eve was created to be his helper.  No questions asked.  That was the role God gave her when he brought her to the man.

But there was a bigger purpose.  Turn to the end of the Book—the Revelation given to John—for the unveiling of why God created the world, why He created man and woman.  “You created all things,” the saints proclaim the worthiness of the Lamb “and for Your pleasure they existed and were created.”  (Revelation 4:11)

Role vs. Purpose

The revelation is that you and I were created for God’s pleasure.  For His glory.  To do His will.  And we weren’t created married, which means that His pleasure, His will and His glory are more far-reaching than simply being married.

See, when an actress performs in a play, her purpose can’t be simply to play her role.  Her role will fall flat and empty if she focuses only on her character.  Why?  Because she’s missing the bigger picture.  The purpose of a play is to tell a story.  In order to tell the story, a play incorporates individual characters.  So the actress must make her purpose to tell the story, to express the story by playing her role.  She must make her role serve the story.  She is a part of a whole.

My concern is that, all too often, we miss the bigger picture.  By holding up marriage and motherhood as our purpose, we are actually stealing from the story.  What I see seeping through the cracks in the marriage goal are a few subtle lies:  that marriage will fulfill my needs; that I serve God through marriage, so, in the meantime, I am being prevented from really serving God as I was created to do; that single years are wasted years; that if I am not married, I must not be godly/mature enough; that my reward (of marriage) is based upon my performance (contentedness/purity/domestic skills/etc); that unmarried people are incomplete—just waiting on a spouse so they can truly be useful; that I would be more useful to God if I were married (I know better than He does). As we swallow these lies like our daily vitamins, we come to be self-obsessed.  Instead of looking at the bigger picture, the story that God wants to tell of His power, His love and His glory, we’re focused on our role.  Instead of making our role serve the story, we just want God to hurry up and write our lines.  When will it be my turn to come on stage?  How does my costume look?  Is this the guy for me?  I’m content now…Lord, where is my husband?  Soon we are pursuing our role instead of our purpose.  We’re obsessed with being wives and mothers, when we should be obsessed with God’s glory.

Ladies, even a pagan can be a wife and mother.

Am I against marriage?

Absolutely not!  Godly marriages glorify God.  But discontentment does not.

Our purpose is to glorify God.  We do this by seeking to understand our role—learning to be obedient women.  Being submissive wives and loving mothers is not the end.  It’s the means to the end—glorifying God.  And it only brings God glory if it springs from submission to God and love for His people.

What does God want from women?

For several years now, I’ve been searching the scriptures to see what God commands me to do.  I found an interesting omission.  God never commands me to marry.  He doesn’t command me to save my heart for my husband.  He doesn’t command me to court.

He commands me to love Him with my entire heart.  He commands me to love my neighbor as myself.  He commands me to view my body as His temple and abstain from sexual immorality.  He lays out the blessings and responsibilities of marriage.  In fact, He holds forth marriage as a picture of Christ and the church—that’s a pretty glorious role to play—picturing here on earth a spiritual truth as large as God’s eternal plan of divine love and redemption.  He also lays out the blessings and responsibilities of singleness.  Those whose roles find them unmarried or who have chosen to audition for unmarried roles are to be single-minded.  And Paul insists that singleness presents more freedom for service to God.  Neither is to covet the role of another.  “If you have a wife, do not seek to be free.  If you are not married, do not seek a wife.”  (1 Corinthians 7:27)  He lays out guidelines for relationships—single and married and in-between.

We are not commanded to have a mindset of marriage.  We are commanded to have a mindset of love.

Godly women are to love

Love, Biblically speaking begins with Christ’s love for us which enables us to have agape (sacrificial) love for all men, which progresses to phileo (affection) toward Christian brothers and sisters and finally (if God so wills) to romantic love—the deepest human fellowship, reserved in the Lord for one person.  When we divorce romance from agape, we have what Paul calls “lustful passion.”  Which is impurity.  For each of us, it must be agape that inspires phileo and controls romance—within the pure bounds of marriage.

The commands to believers over and over and over again are to love.  We are to love Yahweh with all our heart.  We are to love our neighbor as our self.  Your neighbor always begins with the one closest to you.  Married women are to love their neighbors, as well—their husbands and their children.  (Titus 2:4)  We are to look out for the interests of others, being devoted to one another in brotherly love, giving preference to one another in honor.  Our mindset shouldn’t be marriage, but love.

Love Yahweh with all your heart.  Love your neighbor as yourself.

This is obedient womanhood.  This is worship.

It is also the foundation for a marriage that mirrors Christ and the Church.

One day it may be these two loves that lead you into a godly marriage.  What is marriage if not complete and sacrificial giving of oneself—love?  When you understand your purpose is God’s glory, then you can joyfully accept a role of singleness or marriage—for however long the Lord prolongs it.  You can understand that God must always claim first place in your affections and that you must always love others as you love yourself.  Married or single.  This is obedient womanhood.  This is worship.

Part One:  Love and Purity

Part Two:  Love and My Heart

Part Three:  Love and My Brother

Part Four:  Love and Marriage

Part Five:  Love and Matchmaking

Part Six:  Love and Today

*  I’m not trying to attack the goals or purposes of phrases like this, but none of these terms is actually found in scripture.  I’d encourage us to be careful to lift the actual scriptural principles higher than our extra-Biblical models and phrases and to be sure our models and phrases are supporting and fitting into the grid-work of scriptural principles.  I’ve seen each of these terms pasted on rather varying explanations.  Those who advocate these ideals certainly can be/often are upholding Biblical goals, but its not subscribing to a “courtship approach” or claiming to be a “maiden in waiting” or to “saving my heart for my husband” that makes us pure.

**  I use the term “saving” role in reference to 1 Timothy 2:15, which speaks of the woman being “saved” or “preserved” through bearing children.  It is not her eternal salvation in view here—as though salvation were by works, especially a work over which she actually has little control—but the salvation of her importance in human society.  Modern women think they must compete with men to establish their importance, but men cannot compete with women in the thing God considers their most important task.  What will become of the human race if women cease to raise children?

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Part Two: Love and My Heart

March 4, 2010 at 1:46 am (Articles, Attitudes, Godly Living, Love, Marriage, Purity, Singleness, Worship) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Posted by Abigail

The Valentine’s Day just past left me with plenty of fodder for the mental camel I’ve been feeding. Over and over again were the expressions of devotion “You have my heart!” or the pleas “Be mine.” Giving and exchanging of heart-shaped candy and heart-covered cards left impressions of hearts popping out of the heads of every couple I passed. Modern music speaks much of the heart, but the father in Proverbs had some thoughts on the issue, as well. He warned his son of the dangers of impurity, encouraged him to be faithful to the wife of his youth and exhorted “Keep your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)

Proverbs describes temptations not unlike our own and speaks of the wisdom of “keeping” what the world would tempt us to give.

>Keep:

The Hebrew word translated “keep” has a lot more depth to it than four letters might imply. It means a conglomeration of watching, maintaining, guarding, protecting, preserving, even concealing or surviving a siege (mostly negative connotation). The word is nearly identical in purpose to the command given in the Garden of Eden, when Adam was placed in the garden to cultivate and “keep” it. (Genesis 2:15) *

Just what was Adam’s task? To keep the soil soft, healthy, bearing good fruit. To protect it from weeds. To cultivate healthy, fruit-bearing plants. Why? To bring God glory.

The Creation story tells us that man and woman were created in God’s image and when we skip to the end we see God’s purpose. “Thou hast created all things and for Thy pleasure they existed and were created.” (Revelation 4:11) God created you a unique woman, in His image, to bring Him glory. You belong to Him, heart, soul, mind and body.

The heart of the matter

To keep, to guard, to maintain, to protect our heart, we’ve got to understand to Whom it belongs. The answer is not “to ourselves.” The answer is not “to our husband (wherever he is and whenever God wills to reveal him to us, etc, etc).” When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus responded, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind…” (Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27) Over and over, Yahweh complained of Israel’s unfaithfulness. “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.” (Isaiah 29:13) He described the worship issue in graphic language as adultery. In the New Testament, Paul describes our bodies as God’s temples and explains that purity is a worship issue. (1 Corinthians 6:19) “Lust, covetousness, impurity, greed…which amounts to idolatry.” (Colossians 3:5)

God commanded us to love Him. We failed. We chose other gods, other lovers, other things. That’s the story of scripture. Adam and Eve failed to love the Lord with their hearts, minds and souls—instead they sought to know good and evil experientially, they sought knowledge elsewhere and the fellowship between man and God was destroyed. This was the relationship that you and I inherited at birth: enmity with God. But God was never surprised and He was willing to offer His redeeming love to buy us back from slavery to the other things we had pursued. Hosea pictures for us the power of redemption as he buys back his adulterous wife. God demonstrated His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners—enemies of God—He gave His own precious Son to buy us back.

Why am I recounting the gospel story for you? Because when God bought you back, He made you a new creature, able to have intimate fellowship with Him. By the Holy Spirit’s power you are able to love God. “We love Him because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) God created you once, and you belong to Him. Then He bought you back by redeeming love. Is there any question that you belong to Him?

You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart. The world will never have an accurate view of love because the world does not know God.

The Idols We Serve

Why did Hosea’s wife keep fleeing him and returning to her life of sin and degradation? Didn’t she have exactly what so many Christian girls long for today? A godly, compassionate husband and several beautiful children? Still her heart wandered to fields that did not belong to her, and where her heart wandered, her feet followed. Discontentment, we call it.

Lust. Greed. Covetousness.

God calls it “idolatry.”

The idols of Israel’s unfaithfulness were made of wood, gold and stone—materials that God had created, that were good, that served a purpose–in fact, materials that were used to build His own temple. It wasn’t the materials that caused the idolatry. It was the hearts of the people that sought for something they could touch and feel to complete them. In a similar way, romance, marriage and motherhood are not evil. They have been created by God and are holy—when surrendered to Him. But whenever we pursue, worship or serve our desires—even godly desires—we allow them to usurp the place that only Yahweh can fill.

Discontentment, we call it.

God calls it “idolatry.”

Pursue the dream-giver

You’ve seen the young woman everyone says is “glowing.” She’s the one “in love,” the one everyone watches with whispers and chuckles. Her every thought is to please her lover. She talks about him constantly. She talks to him every chance she gets. She can’t wait to be with him and when she is, her eyes are fixed on his face. She’s like a garden soaking up the spring rain and flourishing. Hosea, the faithful husband, proclaims the Lord’s faithfulness and the refreshment found in His presence. “Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord. His going forth is as certain as the dawn and He will come to us like the spring rain watering the earth.” (Hosea 6:3)

Your heart is like a parched garden—it longs for fulfillment. Your Divine Lover created you to respond to His offer of divine love. Scripture says He jealously desires the spirit that He has made to dwell within us. (James 4:5) The Father in Proverbs says the heart must be diligently kept for from it flows the springs of life. The Father seeks worshipers, Jesus told the Samaritan woman, and He promised her springs of living water—welling up inside of her to eternal life. (John 4:14) Press on to know the Lord and He will come to you—bringing refreshment, bringing life.

In God’s economy, giving is keeping. If you lose your life for Christ, you will gain it for eternity. If you give to the poor, the Lord will repay you. If you want to keep your heart, you must pour it before the Lord. Paul wrote to the Philippians not to be anxious, but to pour everything with prayer and petition and thanksgiving at the feet of Christ. “And,” he promised, “the peace of God that surpasses all comprehension will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7) If you pour your heart, your grief, your struggles, your pain, yourself out in extravagant worship, you will find it guarded, protected and healed. You will find it softened, growing with good things. You will keep your heart. For God’s glory.

Purity and worship

Whenever anxiety enters, when other things vie for your attention, when your biological clock is ticking so loudly it is waking the neighbors or when that godly young man gives a good answer at Bible study, you must keep your heart. You must know it, you must guard it, you must conceal it, you must cultivate it. It’s not that desires are ungodly, but even godly desires must find a place in the kingdom of God. Jesus encouraged His followers to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:25-34) The Father knows what you need before you ask. Above all else, He knows you need Him.

Seize every distraction as a redirection to focus on the Lord. Take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. Seek the Lord.

Jesus blessed the pure in heart. “They shall see God,” He said. (Matthew 5:18) He accepted into His service women at whom others looked askance. Others saw only the scars of the past. Jesus probed into hearts and found them washed clean, restored and redeemed through the prodigal grace of God. ** When a woman of shady reputation poured a vial of expensive perfume over the feet of the Lord, she was pouring out her heart, despite the cold condemnation of those witnessing the act. But Jesus accepted this extravagant worship with the words, “he who is forgiven much, loves much.” (Luke 7:36-50) As forgiven women, let us never forget to love much. Purity is a heart attitude that springs from devotion to Christ.

A “kept” heart is a heart that has chosen the best part—the place at Jesus’ feet.

Part One:  Love and Purity

Part Two:  Love and My Heart

Part Three:  Love and My Brother

Part Four:  Love and Marriage

Part Five:  Love and Matchmaking

Part Six:  Love and Today

* A few interesting uses of the Hebrew words translated “keep/guard”: Gen. 3:24; Gen. 17:10; Gen. 28:15; Gen. 30:31; Ex. 12:25; Ex. 15:26; Ex. 20:6; Ex. 23:20; Lev. 18:26; Num. 6:24; Deu. 5:1; Ps. 12:7; Ps. 25:10; Ps. 34:13; Ps. 78:7; Ps. 89:28; Ps. 91:11; Ps. 105:41 (contains both words); Ps. 119 (uses both interchangeably, repeatedly); Ps. 127:1 (same word used for “keep” and “watchman”); Proverbs; Ecc. 3:6; Is. 26:3; Is. 27:3; Jer. 3:5; Ez. 20:19; Dan. 9:4; Hos. 12:6; Mic. 7:5; Nah. 2:11; Mal. 2:7

** Prodigal (adjective): 1. wastefully or recklessly extravagant. 2. giving or yielding profusely; lavishly abundant. The “prodigal son” was wastefully and recklessly extravagant with his inheritance—an evil thing. Mary of Bethany was lavishly abundant with her worship—a pure thing. God is prodigal with the grace He bestows on us—extravagant, profuse and lavishly abundant. Praise Him!

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